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Slave Labor

Count Three of the U.S. indictment against Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, et al. charged the twelve defendants with deporting, exploiting, and abusing slave laborers. All defendants except Karl Pfirsch were found guilty. Krupp officials forced approximately 100,000 people, including foreign civilians, prisoners of war, concentration camp prisoners, and even children, to work in its domestic plants.

The Krupp firm was not alone. The use of forced laborers was pervasive among Axis countries during World War II. German labor offices began conscripting thousands of Jews in 1939 as forced laborers for private enterprises and public projects. During the war, millions of foreign nationals and prisoners of war were also conscripted. Between 1942 and 1944, for example, the NSDAP deported almost 3 million Soviets for forced labor in Reich-occupied territories.

The pre-World War II Hague and Geneva Conventions not only mandated reasonable treatment of prisoners of war with respect to food, housing, and correspondence with family members; they proscribed any labor for war production. The Krupp judges found that eleven of the defendants consistently violated these provisions of international law. The judges were appalled by the Krupp firm’s ill treatment of Soviet prisoners of war and female Jewish concentration camp prisoners and its failure to provide basic air raid protection for forced laborers.

Prisoners of War and Foreign Civilians

Prisoners of War

Approximately 23,000 prisoners of war worked as slave laborers in Krupp plants between 1940 and 1945. Krupp used prisoners of war from various countries, including the Soviet Union, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, and Yugoslavia, often for armament production. In 1941, for example, the firm used French, Dutch, and Belgian prisoners of war to build submarines and other warships at its Germaniawerft plant in Kiel.

The Soviets fared the worst of all prisoners of war in Krupp plants. They received severely inadequate food rations, clothing and housing. Such treatment was encouraged in Nazi Germany. Second only to Jews, Soviet prisoners of war were the largest group deliberately targeted by NSDAP racial policies. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that only 43% of Soviet prisoners of war survived the war.

In their judgment, the tribunal noted that prisoner of war camps were located in close proximity to Krupp factories, were bombed at least six times during the war—twice severely—and that Krupp officials anticipated these air raids as early as 1939. “Quite apart from the fact that it was illegal to employ them at all for war work, and to employ them in so dangerous an area, it was the duty of the employers to see that these prisoners were properly housed and furnished with adequate air raid protection. They were helpless, and in a very real sense they were wards of their masters.”

Foreign Civilians

During the war Krupp forcibly employed close to 70,000 foreign civilians from a number of countries, including Czechoslovakia, Russia, Denmark, France, Yugoslavia, Poland, Belgium, Romania, Holland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Italy, Greece, and Luxembourg. Early in the war, some civilians willingly signed contracts to work in Krupp factories for wages. However, when their contracts expired, Krupp forcibly renewed them. Civilian workers who escaped were pursued, arrested, and sometimes sent to punishment camps run by the Gestapo. Both male and female laborers endured beatings at Krupp. German employees who tried to assist them were also punished and sometimes sent to the Gestapo as a warning to other employees not to provide material support to forced laborers.

Prejudice against “Eastern workers” (Ostarbeiter), a Nazi neologism for laborers from Eastern European countries, was rife in Nazi Germany, including Krupp plants, where Eastern European laborers received less food and more beatings. In his March 13, 1942, circular letter sent to Krupp plant managers, defendant Ihn warned: “The Russian civilian workers are to be treated in the same way as prisoners of war. Any sympathy is false pity, which the courts will not accept as an excuse.” In 1944, Eastern European female laborers at Krupp worked a mandatory 56-69 hours per week of heavy physical labor. In Essen, several Krupp managers made repeated use of a narrow steel box with a lock for torturing up to 4 laborers at a time for 2 days with no food or bathroom breaks, even in freezing temperatures.

Jewish Concentration Camp Prisoners

During the war, the Krupp firm employed approximately 5,000 concentration camp prisoners. Although the majority worked in Krupp’s existing factories, Krupp officials also contracted to build an automatic weapons parts plant at Auschwitz with the intention of using Auschwitz prisoners as laborers. In October 1942, Krupp administrators approved an application of 2 million marks to build the Auschwitz plant. However, after Krupp struggled to set up equipment, the German Army became frustrated with delays and transferred production to another company.

One group of Jewish female concentration camp prisoners received particular attention during the tribunal. In the summer of 1944, Krupp officials personally selected 520 Jewish women who had been working at the Gelsenberg factory, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, although they had requested an allocation of 2,000 Jewish men instead. Krupp employees referred to them as the “Hungarian Jewesses,” although the women came from various countries and spoke different languages. Alfried Krupp stated in his July 3, 1947, affidavit that “[i]n regard to the employment of concentration camp prisoners at plants in Essen itself, I only know one thing that in 1944 approximately 500 female concentration camp prisoners were assigned to us and that on account of it we were very disagreeably affected and made several attempts to get rid of them as soon as possible.” Numerous witnesses, including several of the women, testified about their dangerous living and working conditions, malnutrition, and inadequate clothing.


Child Laborers

Children between the ages of 10 and 14 were among the foreign nationals forced to work in Krupp factories. Many had been seized on the streets of Eastern European countries by the Wehrmacht during the chaos of war, then deported to Germany to work in factories. As court documents indicate, Krupp officials were not pleased about receiving shipments of children from Reich Labor allocations; nevertheless, they trained and used them as laborers.

Infants of Slave Laborers

The youngest victims of forced labor at Krupp were infants who died in the care of Krupp employees. Babies born to forced laborers at Krupp were taken from their mothers, often women from Eastern European countries, approximately six weeks after birth, then placed in the Krupp Voerde West Children’s Camp northwest of Essen near the Dutch border. Many infants died of malnutrition, although the total number is unknown. One official record kept by a registrar in Voerde listed 88 infant deaths in 7 months between fall 1944 and early 1945. Among the listed causes of death were rickets, “general weakness,” “nutritional disturbances,” tuberculosis, and air raids.